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Vans US Open: Athletes, Crowds, Brands Return to HB

Tourism: Nearly 400K at action sports festival

The recently concluded Vans US Open of Surfing caught a massive wave of attendance when it returned this year to Huntington Beach.

The event, touted as the largest surfing competition and action sports festival in the world, started July 30 and wrapped up on Aug. 7. Close to 400,000 people were estimated to have attended the nine-day event.

The event marked a notable chapter in the history of the US Open, which has been hosted in Huntington Beach since 1959. The event was canceled in 2020, and only open to competitors in 2021.

“When the US Open looks like this, that’s when we know surfing is back,” Will Hayden-Smith, manager of World Surf League—which oversees the sporting portion of the annual event—told the Business Journal.

Foot traffic was also back. Pre-pandemic attendance at the annual event had been estimated around 375,000.

 

Economic Impact

In a study conducted by market research firm Destination Analysts Inc., the US Open in 2018 brought in $55 million in total direct spending to Huntington Beach from visitors, the event organizer, athletes, and sponsors overall.

The US Open’s total economic impact is estimated to be $96 million, supporting about 1,000 jobs.

Along with the three-day Pacific Airshow, which counts an estimated economic impact in the $100 million range, the surf festival is the biggest annual tourism draw in Huntington Beach, according to destination marketing organization Visit Huntington Beach.

The latest event played a larger-than-usual role for Orange County’s tourism industry, as Huntington Beach is vying to play host to surf competitions during the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Huntington Beach has another upcoming event to show off its Olympic mettle.

In September, the city will be hosting the 2022 ISA World Surfing Games, which serves as the first event for surfing qualification for the forthcoming 2024 Olympics; the surfing portion of the Paris-hosted games are taking place in Tahiti.

“We create a pathway for athletes, to the world title and now a gold medal,” Hayden-Smith said. “We’re putting a platform in place to show off our athletes.”

 

13-Acre Stage

The US Open counted over 200 surfers in a variety of competitions, but much of the action took place outside the water.

Set up on the south side of the pier, the accompanying festival took up some 13 acres of beach, with numerous local and national brands vying for attention.

Starting from the welcome center, booths and a large Vans pop-up store led visitors toward the skate park for the BMX and skate competitions that took place alongside surfing.

Across the event’s three hosting organizations—Vans, WSL and sports and entertainment management company IMG—there were over 300 workers involved with the project with at least another 100 staff on-site all week, according to officials with IMG, owner and operator of the festival portion of the event.

“OC is the backyard of the action sports industry,” IMG Vice President Jennifer Lau noted.

Based in New York, 60-year-old event marketing firm IMG purchased the US Open in 2001.

The company’s goal is “connecting sports and entertainment together while also connecting athletes to fans.” said Lau, whose company operates hundreds of live sports and entertainment events annually.

The “festival has evolved into much more than just a spectator event.”

 

Vans’ Branding

Costa Mesa-based Vans has been the title sponsor of the event and partner to IMG since 2013.

The shoe and apparel maker added its name to the event in 2013 when former president Doug Palladini decided to place a bid after Nike and Hurley exited.

It has since become an extension and representation of the brand, according to Justin Villano, Vans senior manager of action sports brand marketing.

The action sports festival also included BMX and skate events put on by the title sponsor, such as the first Vans BMX Waffle Cup and the second Vans Showdown hosting over 50 skaters­.

“We’re introducing culture to competition,” Villano said of the moments he hoped the event would create. The company hosted sold-out surf camps for local youth and a surfboard swap between the main events.

The event’s main pop-up store was a temporary Vans spot set up on the sand. The retail center was 11,250 square feet. It held around 50 Vans employees.

Local retail spots on the Pacific Coast Highway, Jack’s Surfboards and Huntington Surf and Sport, were also notable participants at the event, with pop-up tents outside its respective store doors.

 

Booths

Once consumers exited the Vans retail center, they would find themselves at the Van Doren Village, named after Vans co-founder Paul Van Doren. The area included a community market featuring local vendors such as Stitchbox Wetsuit Repairs, OC Coast Keepers, Huntington Beach’s Jokers Skate Shop, Costa Mesa Ceramics and more from the region.

Ventura-based Stitchbox once fixed 47 suits in one day while another vendor, Golden State Glassing, worked on 45 surfboards total.

Other booths were manned by the event’s official partners, including 805, Pacifica and Shiseido.

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